By Sam Bush
Aaron Nola pitched seven shutout innings and the Phillies snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 3-0 victory over the Atlanta Braves.
In his final start of the year, Nola (17-6) allowed two hits and struck out eight with four walks. The right-hander ended 2018 with a 2.37 ERA and 224 strikeouts in 212 1/3 innings.
He likely will fall short of a NL Cy Young award after stumbling a bit in September. Nola entered 1-3 with a 4.60 ERA and nine home runs allowed in September before returning to the form his displayed for most of the season on Saturday.
“It feels good,” Nola said, “but I think it feels better for us as a team.”
After taking a month off, Nola will begin tuning up for 2019.
“Just stay consistent, keep working on my delivery and try to learn more and more about the game,” he said.
Cesar Hernandez had a two-run single in the seventh inning to back Nola.
The NL East champion Braves will play either the Los Angeles Dodgers or Colorado Rockies in the NLDS, and Atlanta still could host the series. The Braves (90-71) and Dodgers have the same record entering the regular-season finale today while Colorado entered Saturday with a 90-70 mark.
Atlanta had no answer for Nola.
“You just try to keep it close and hopefully his clicker will run out,” manager Brian Snitker said. “We just couldn’t get anything going.”
Nola allowed only Ronald Acuna Jr.’s single to lead off the game and Nick Markakis’ single to start the fourth. The closest the Braves came to scoring was in the second inning when Nola walked the first two batters. But the right-hander got Kurt Suzuki to line out, struck out Ozzie Albies and then intentionally walked Charlie Culberson to load the bases before finally striking out starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez.
Sanchez matched Nola, giving up three hits with seven strikeouts and three walks in six shutout innings.
“He did everything he could do to get us a chance,” Snitker said.
With one out and two runners on in the seventh, manager Gabe Kapler chose to pinch-hit for Nola. Jonny Venters (5-2) intentionally walked pinch-hitter Wilson Ramos to load the bases before Hernandez hit a sharp liner under shortstop Culberson’s glove into left field that scored two. Odubel Herrera helped the Phillies take a 3-0 lead when he beat out a potential double-play grounder to short.
Seranthony Dominguez pitched a scoreless ninth for his 15th save in 19 chances.
The victory was the Phils’ first since Sept. 19. The Phillies’ slide started with a four-game sweep at Atlanta last weekend when they still were mathematically alive in the playoff race. The Phillies were outscored 70-21 during the losing streak that capped a late-season collapse. Philadelphia went from 15 games over .500 and 1 ½ games in front of Atlanta for first place on Aug. 7 to four games under .500 and 12 games back of the Braves on Sept. 28.
Nola joined Hall of Famer Grover Cleveland Alexander as the only Phillies pitchers to strike out 200 or more batters and hold opponents to a batting average of .200 or lower. And the right-hander is the fourth Philadelphia hurler to record 224 or more strikeouts in a season, joining Jim Bunning, Alexander and Curt Schilling.